Judge Strikes Down Key Part of Yeshiva Regulations

Judge Strikes Down Key Part of Yeshiva Regulations

By Meir Sternhill

In a partial victory for New York state’s yeshivos, a state Supreme Court justice struck down a key component of the recent regulations imposed on private schools in New York, ruling that the state Education Department may not shut down or withhold funding from schools it decides are not “substantially equivalent” to public schools.

In a 21-page decision issued Thursday afternoon, Judge Christina Ryba agreed with much of the arguments put forward by attorneys for five yeshivas, Agudath Israel, PEARLS and Torah Umesorah. She wrote that if a school was found to be in noncompliance with the law, the Education Department may inform parents of the status of their child’s school but it can’t take any measures against the school.

“Certain portions of the new regulations impose consequences and penalties upon yeshivas above and beyond that authorized by the compulsory education law,” Ryba wrote, adding that the law “places the burden for ensuring a child's education squarely on the parent, not the school.”

“The court finds that respondents lack authority to direct parents to completely unenroll their children from nonpublic schools that have been determined to fall short of meeting each and every substantial equivalency criteria, nor do respondents have authority to direct the closure of such schools,” Ryba wrote in her ruling. “Rather, the parents should be given a reasonable opportunity to prove that the substantial equivalency requirements for their children's education are satisfied by instruction provided through a combination of sources.”

Parents who ignore the warning may theoretically be charged with child neglect if their child is not in a recognized school, though that it highly unlikely to happen.

Ryba was the judge who in 2019 struck down the state’s first attempt to impose onerous guidelines on private schools, ruling then that they were so burdensome on schools that they must be brought before citizens in a public comment period. That first period garnered 140,000 comments, more than 95 percent of which were against interfering into yeshiva education.

The state then revamped its regulations to allow for more pathways to get recognized as a valid school. But the second comment period collected more than double the first number — 300,000 comments poured in, the vast majority of them against the state.

The frum community was angered when in August, the Board of Regents and Education Commissioner Betty Rosa, who is widely considered to be the force behind the regulations, pushed through the regulations anyhow.

The judge’s ruling was welcomed by pro-yeshiva organizations.

“While not the complete victory many were praying for, Agudath Israel is grateful that the court recognized the egregious overreach the Regulations sought,” Agudah said in a statement. “The prospect of forcibly shutting down schools, and of the state mandating which schools children should be reenrolled to, is not something one would typically associate with 21st century America.”

PEARLS, which was established to advocate on behalf of yeshivos, said that the ruling “preserved our ability to bring a constitutional challenge should any yeshiva be unfairly judged or burdened by the state’s application of the regulations.”

Over in Washington, Rep. Mike Lawler, the Rockland County Republican who has made defending yeshivas a key part of his strategy, proposed an amendment which would strip local school authorities of the ability to regulate private schools.

“Parents choose to send their children to the school they feel best suits their needs and beliefs,” Lawler said on the House floor. “It is not the role of any government to dictate to parents and children what they should believe and practice, and in my district it certainly is a concern held by many parents.”

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